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With Due Respect

‘Gunfight at the C’monwealth Corral’

So jarring and so tragic was the gunfight on the evening of Feb. 24 between the operatives of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City (QC) that a sullen President Duterte ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct an investigation “solely” to “assure impartiality.”

Deferring to the President, the two government agencies stopped their joint probe of the perplexing incident which resulted in the death of two QC policemen, a ranking PDEA intelligence officer, and a drug informant, and in injuries to several persons.

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Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who oversees the NBI, vowed a thorough probe to determine criminal liability, saying, “The NBI will go anywhere the investigation will lead it” and “go up,” if needed.

Strangely, however, the Senate and the House of Representatives deferred their respective legislative inquiries, which had an altogether different purpose — in aid of legislation, not in pursuit of felonious culpability.

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Undaunted, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former PNP chief, suspected that the shootout — reminiscent (for those old enough to remember) of the blockbuster movie “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” — may have been carried out as an illegal “sell-bust” instead of a legal “buy-bust”

The senator’s theory brings out the delicate distinction between a legal “entrapment” and an illegal “instigation.” In an entrapment (or “buy-bust” in police parlance), the law officers pretend to buy illegal drugs from an alleged seller or dealer. The criminal intent or design to commit the offense originates from the mind of the accused; the law officers merely facilitate its commission. It is a lawful police tactic for trapping and capturing lawbreakers during their very act of executing their criminal plan.

In an instigation, the officers incite, induce, or lure the accused into committing the offense, which the latter would not have committed and had no intention of committing were it not for the “instigation.” Here, the officers practically become co-conspirators in the commission of the crime.

From the facts reported by media, no conclusion could be made on whether the PNP and/or the PDEA agents used entrapment or instigation in their operation. This is a question of fact that, hopefully, the NBI would determine; and as well, too, on whether the PNP and the PDEA used the same double-faced agent who pitted them against each other in that crowded area near the Ever Gotesco Mall in QC.

While the NBI is busy unlocking the mystery, I think that, moving forward, Lacson’s proposal to separate the roles of the PNP and the PDEA should be pursued. He suggested that the PDEA should be the “overseer” focused on intelligence gathering and leave the actual assault operations to trained police forces.

However, I disagree with House Bill No. 7814 that presumes the elements of a crime from a police officer’s perception of a suspect’s overt actions. Though the presumption is disputable in court, the bill still violates the basic constitutional right to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty after observing due process before an impartial judge.

Worse, the presumptions could be used as prima facie bases for capital offenses that would lead to the indefinite detention of suspects who would then bear the burden of proving their innocence without any strong factual evidence of guilt other than the presumptions provided in the bill.

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Also, it is time to shift the focus of the war from the impoverished peddlers and users to the super-rich drug lords who smuggle prohibited drugs in connivance with corrupt or inept customs and immigration officials.

Cooperation with other countries with much longer and wider experience in fighting the narcotics menace would be needed, too. For prohibited drugs are high stakes crimes with googolplex financial rewards in countries like Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia, and Panama where, sometimes, they involve even presidents, cabinet members, and other high officials. Former Panamanian president Manuel Antonio Noriega was a notorious drug lord arrested by agents of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration who caused his extradition to the US.

The US has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to stop the manufacture and trafficking of illegal drugs. Its specially-trained agents can help friendly governments eradicate or minimize the menace.

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TAGS: Artemio V. Panganiban, entrapment, instigation, panfilo lacson, PDEA-PNP shootout, With Due Respect
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